Thursday, June 27, 2013

Escape to Montreal, la premiére partie

Montreal Museum of Archaeology & History
It's been a while since we've been to my favorite city north of the border, but I have some friends who are looking for a little travel inspiration and Montreal is an easy getaway. Just five hours by car from Portland or less than an hour and a half by air from either New York or Boston and you're in one of the most cosmopolitan and family friendly cities in North America. You'll feel like you've crossed the ocean and landed in Paris, without the jet lag, the hefty airfare, or the poor dollar to euro exchange rate.

We started our visit (after amazing croissants and coffee, more on that later) in Old Montreal at the birthplace of Montreal, literally. The Pointe-à-Callière is the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History and sits on the spot where a mass was held to celebrate the founding of Montreal in 1642. Archaeologists in the 1980's uncovered thousands of artifacts and evidence of early settlements, and the museum opened to the public in 1992. A quick multimedia movie gives you an introduction to the history of the city, and then you head underground to check out the stone tunnels and see what life was like over the centuries. In the Archaeo-adventure workshop your kids can play Indiana Jones and dig and sift their way through a replica dig site, crystal skulls or holy grails not included.

Jardin Nelson, Vieux Montréal
After the Archaeology Museum it's good to take a walk above ground and search out some lunch before heading to the Museum of Science. One of our favorite lunch spots is Jardin Nelson, with a beautiful outdoor garden surrounded by stone walls dating from the 1800s. The boys love the empty windows and the missing roof. In good weather be sure to wait for a garden table, you'll eat under a canopy of clouds and blue sky or if the weather is iffy they'll put up the gigantic umbrellas. The food isn't as good as the view, but it's fun to eat inside the shell of an old building and when they have a jazz band playing I can't think of a better way to spend an hour or two.

The Montreal Science Center takes up an entire pier on the waterfront in Montreal, just down the street from Jardin Nelson. It's a cavernous hands on museum, with tons of activities for kids of every age. Every exhibit is in English & French, and there's an IMAX theater if you need to get off your feet for a while. This summer the special exhibit is on sharks, which I'm sure the little C&Gs would love. I'd have to sit that one out, as I never quite recovered from seeing the movie Jaws as a kid.

Pedestrian friendly Place Jacques-Cartier
Old Montreal is a lovely maze of narrow streets and bumpy cobblestones, with tourist trap shops spilling out onto the sidewalks and chic art galleries and boutiques perfect for window shopping. When you're ready for a cocktail check out the beautiful atrium bar of the Hotel Nelligan or their outdoor rooftop terrace with stunning views, just a five minute walk from the science museum. Hotel bars are a great place to unwind and they're almost always kid friendly. Order up some pretzels, charcuterie, and cheeses and sit back and enjoy the gorgeous views over the city. The people watching isn't too bad either.

If you travel by air, the entire family will need passports, but if you're driving the adults need passports and kids can get away with a birth certificate. There's lots more to enjoy in this chic city to our north, so stay tuned for my next Montreal post.

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